A Find Unlocks Comics Mystery
A drawing by an American, discovered in a Jerusalem junk shop, reveals German Jewry’s lost grandeur
Much of Worms was devastated by Allied bombings in February-March 1945, but some buildings of the old Judengasse—including the Orthodox Levy Synagogue, which had been spared on Kristallnacht because it adjoined “Aryan” houses—remained standing around the field of rubble that was the Alte Schul. In 1959, the city of Worms initiated the reconstruction of the Old Synagogue at the behest of, among others, the archivist Illert. But almost no Jews had returned, and there was some opposition to the idea in Jewish circles. They gradually warmed, and the restored Schul was rededicated—fittingly—on the first night of Hanukkah, December 1961 to the strains of Ma’oz Tzur.
Comparison with Reinman’s 1933 drawing shows that the restoration was remarkably accurate. The vaulted men’s synagogue is occasionally prayed in by men and women together, from the community of Mainz and by Jewish servicemen and women from nearby NATO bases; the former women’s synagogue is a venue for cultural events such as Rabbi Klapheck’s presentation. Hate has not vanished: As recently as May 2010, the restored synagogue was torched again in an apparent pro-Palestinian attack. But this time the firemen did their duty, there was no serious damage, and Germany’s leaders were united in condemnation.
It doesn’t seem that Reinman attended the rededication ceremony, though he probably at least heard about it. This was the year he wrote his own life story for the Tarzan fanzine; he was approaching the height of his comics career and doing well enough to play tennis and engage in carpentry as a hobby. But he did comply when 15 years later he was contacted by the database compilers from Worms. He contributed a letter, as did his brother Hans (now John) and Alex Leopold, Alice’s husband, which provided the timeline of their story. Margit Rinker-Olbrisch of the Worms city archive sent us a copy. Reinman’s signature is in longhand, unlike the comics version but almost identical to the one on the synagogue drawing.
Alice and Alex had settled in Boca Raton, Fla., and it was probably to be near them that Paul Reinman moved to West Palm Beach (with his second wife, Celia; Dora had died in 1967) when his comics career petered out in the mid-1970s. Debi Murray of the local historical society helped us look up their records. There Reinman turned to courtroom sketches for TV, movie posters, and advertising. His last boss at Marvel, Roy Thomas, wrote apologetically about Reinman and several others in a 2004 number of Alter Ego fanzine, which we downloaded from John Morrow’s vast collection: “Nobody gave them retirement parties, a pension, or a gold watch. One year, they were making a decent living drawing. … The next, they had somehow lost their footing, never quite to regain it.” In the same issue, Nick Caputo called for a reassessment of Reinman’s art—which had long been belittled by many as “second rate” or even the “worst.”
This disdain was partly a result of intra-industry rivalry; Reinman had left Marvel to start a competing superhero series with his first employer, Archie—which failed, forcing his humiliating and brief return. Caputo blames this mainly on inferior writing and has kind words for Reinman’s work at its best: “moody pages, filled with interesting layouts, innovative angle shots and impressive, detailed backgrounds.” Another enthusiast, on one of the many comics discussion boards, went so far as to compare Reinman with the classic Japanese artist Hokusai, citing their similarly graceful brushstrokes. Stan Lee (Lieber), the revered comics writer—most famously for Kirby—who preceded Thomas at Marvel, may have pointed to the key: “Reinman was good because he was also a painter, and he inked in masses like a painter.”
For all his success in commercial art, Reinman never gave up painting, at a level that is all the more impressive for being self-taught. It was here that his background found some direct expression: Sheila Schechtman, a retired teacher, shared with us a lithograph of his that shows three tallit-wrapped, bearded men at a synagogue bimah, one of them lifting a Torah scroll. Though undated, it clearly was made in the United States, as it bears Reinman’s comics-style signature in the block. There’s not enough detail to tell for sure whether it depicts memories from Worms, as I suspect, or an American scene. The print is numbered 187 out of 200 (next to a penciled signature in his old script style but with a single “n”), so there must have been enough demand to turn out such a large edition. But that’s the only other example we’ve found of Jewish subjects in Reinman’s fine art.
As a watercolorist, Reinman won awards in Manhattan’s Washington Square outdoor shows. Sadly, this appreciation didn’t last for any of his work outside of comics. Marvel’s parent company did commission him to adorn its cafeteria with a mural—but of all its superheroes. A single page of X-Men No. 1 that he inked in 1962 was auctioned for $45,000, thanks to Kirby’s signature. Covers penciled and colored by Reinman himself have sold for up to $1,400, mainly from the mid-1940s Green Lantern series, which Thomas and others admire as his finest work. In contrast, last year an oil painting (again with a two-digit date, “63”) was offered in a “Boca Raton estate sale”—was it the Leopolds’? Hood Auctions kindly permitted us to reproduce it here. It failed to make its low estimate and fetched merely $100. Our own purchase, then, was not much of a bonanza in dollar terms.
That inexpensive painting is a dreamy Winter Street, Lady With Umbrella that features masterful rendering of reflections on a wet pavement. For a Who’s Who in Comics in the 1960s, Reinman listed as his “influences” Alex Raymond of Flash Gordon fame—and the French Impressionists. But in our view, the painting is eerily reminiscent of the interwar German post-impressionists, many of them Jewish—especially the rainy Berlin street scenes by Lesser Ury. So, it seems that Reinman did keep something of the old country close to his artistic heart.
And then there’s his memento of the Worms Synagogue, whose path to Jerusalem we’re still trying to trace.
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